This article was first published on lawrencevalerez.com and Lawrence so kindly allowed us to share the post here.
The area is forested with a road pushed through like a foot slid through sand. Our little car races along on the way to ReTuna, the recycling mall that has achieved mythical proportions in my circles of zero-wasters, resource-stewardship gurus, and alternate-economic-system seekers. The Swedish forest is gorgeous and hugs the roads and towns tightly all the way to Eskilstuna where we round a bend and see it for the first time. Firstly, it is huge. A gigantic brown warehouse the size of a football (soccer) pitch. It sits next to a gentle rise to a plateau of bins and containers; a transfer station drop-off. A steady stream of cars and trucks ascend and disgorge their unwanteds, like miners throwing gold back into the ground, but not before they must cross clearly marked donation signs, and even take another road that abuts ReTuna, to make donations directly to the building.
At this point I have no idea what to expect upon entering the mall. I have seen pictures, mainly small and beautiful ones on the little flyer given to me by Stefan and Nicole who run a (gorgeous) vintage resale store in Toronto called Common Sort. But those can’t be believed. It’s too clean. Too beautiful.
I walk through the door and immediately eat my hat.
The polished concrete foyer opens up to a second floor where individual shops wrap around, peering down at us as we stand, agape and impressed. There is the immediate feeling that this space is as it should be. That something here has been done right. It is spotless, polished, dust-free and absent of odours. It is well lit and tastefully decorated, and I have the distinct impression that humans of great skill and enterprise have made this happen.
Straight ahead is an upcycling shop within which stand doors, chandeliers, buckets and tools, all taken from the bowels of the landfill and given new life. To our left is ReBuyke where bicycles donated in bad shape are overhauled by a crew of handy humans and sold for between CAD$80 and CAD$150 each. In ReBuyke is also an assortment of bicycle equipment for sale including clothing and fixtures, and outside, where sit the fixed bikes, also sit refurbished push-mowers and weed-whackers. To the right as you enter is the largest of the shops within ReTuna, and inside it holds racks-upon-racks of spotless clothing, shelves of shoes, and stacks of books.Furniture of all manner queues for your attention upon the shop floor.
At this point, 10 minutes in, I cannot take it anymore. All of this is donated or rescued from the landfill? I could be walking the halls of a Toronto shopping mall. If this was not in ReTuna I assure you my friends there would be zero way to tell the destined place of all of these jail-broken things.
I’m losing it.
I accost a ReTuna human.
And say, “I’m sorry.. but what the hell.”
He smiles and puts his hands together in front of him. His pride is as colourful and thick as a jacket upon his shoulders and is wonderful to behold. His gesture takes in the entirety of this shop, and indeed the entirety of the mall, as he calmly explains that yes, indeed, everything you see was taken from the transfer station, or donated directly to ReTuna. He explains that before the mall opens everyday, all the shop owners in the mall come to the main processing hall and select what they will fix, polish and shine to then live inside their stores. Of course, he says, all bike things go to ReBuyke, all computer things to ReComputeIt, etc, and generally the sorting is done together, based on previously agreed upon divisions. Funding, he explains, primarily comes from the municipality, and they pay rent for their facility. The money they make goes towards supporting ReTuna, but also is invested into education and food-providing services in the community.
Frankly this man seems at a ridiculous level of ease with the world-changing facility in which he works, a facility that is quite honestly making me feel bodily things unbecoming of a professional, while simultaneously making my hope for humanity swell. We thank him for his time, and in broken Swedish I celebrate his choice to work with such a noble and creative project.
We make our way upstairs to peruse the next level of shops. ReComputeIt, as mentioned, has within it refurbished laptops and desktops, flat-screen televisions, video-game consoles, record and radio players, CD’s and records, cameras and instruments. The man behind the counter has a 500 megaton smile and it’s radiation stays with me the rest of the day.
Next door are two shops with specialty vintage clothing, tastefully displayed. And beside that is ReKids, selling all manner of kids toys and clothing. Again I am floored by how these things are donated. The lady behind the counter at ReKids gives us another dose of happy-radiation and I fear I shall feel the cumulative effects of this place for many years to come.
There is a cafe on this level that looks down upon the foyer and we eat a meal of generous salads at reasonable prices. We sit alongside a diverse crowd, both in age and ethnicity, as they casually chew inside this miracle of a building.
DO YOU NOT REALIZE HOW INCREDIBLE THIS IS.
Maybe they’ve been here before..
We peruse the last few shops holding antique furniture and glassware, brass and bronze artistic pieces, paintings and vases holding cascading vines or aloe stood at attention. The corridor where the last shops stand ends in a glass door beyond which a conference centre can be seen with the ability to serve catered meals. To the right of the door is the Folkhogskola, a one year college for studies in recycle design. Newcomer programs are advertised on boards in the hallways, and when we do leave, 2 hours later, it is with a sense that there is more than upcycling going on here. ReTuna is an example of solidarity with future generations. The humans born with personalities I cannot fathom, using technology I cannot comprehend, perhaps using language I could not understand, come alive in this place. Actions taken within the walls of projects such as these are smiled upon by those future humans, and it is for them that we change this world.
Goodbye, ReTuna. Thanks for the inspiration. If I can do anything before I give nutrients back to the circle of life, it will be to build another one of you.. or at least furnish my future with your products 🙂
*written and images by Lawrence Alvarez